Candice Hartley, the principal of Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts, starts
each day greeting her 445 students, and their parents, with a smile as they arrive on campus. She makes it a point to be on morning duty each morning because, “regardless of what happened between home and school, I want them to know when they get here it’s a safe place and people are excited to see them” she said.
Hartley joined the United States Marine Corps when she graduated high school in 1998. She lived overseas in Japan and Korea, where she volunteered in the schools on base. She was later stationed at Camp Pendleton, California where she volunteered in “low performing, low poverty schools” once a week. It was through volunteering that she fell in love with teaching and “saw the loss of relationships between educators and students,” which drives her passion for developing relationships with students to foster learning.
Once her military service ended, she attended Louisiana State University. Hartley graduated in 2006 with a Bachelors degree in elementary education and began teaching for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. She has been in education for 10 years, as a teacher, in working with the State Department of Education, as an assistant principal and now as a principal.
Hartley originally fell in love with teaching children, but then “found that there was a need for developing educators.” Hartley noticed that teachers were not well prepared because they often graduate from college and are immediately “thrown into the classroom” as educators. Hartley discovered that she would be able to reach more students by helping professionally develop educators. Her passion changed from teaching children to teaching adults and “empowering teachers to be the best that they can be.”
Hartley alludes to her military background when describing her passion for empowering teachers. She applies the principle “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” by taking teachers who are struggling and helping them figure out what they’re good at in order to, “empower them to become better educators.”
Although her focus now is on educating teachers, she still shows an abundance of love for her students. Her genuine concern for each student is obvious through her presence at (nearly) every school function, and even appearances at students’ performances that are outside of school. Her presence at an event is her way of letting students and parents know that she supports that program and feels as if it’s important, she said. Her dedication to her students is also evident in the hours she spends on campus. “I feel like I should be the first one on campus,” she says, “and I feel like I should be the last one to leave every day.”
As we walk down a row of classrooms she peaks in a window and waves at a fourth-grade art class. “Those are my babies,” she says nodding at two fourth-grade boys who are smirking at her through the window. “The sassy ones are my favorite,” she smiles, “because I can always break them by the end of the year and they are just the sweetest.”
Despite the 2015-2016 school year being her first as principal at BRCVPA, Hartley has developed a personal relationship with each student, as well as their parents.
I watched in the office as a few parents signed in late students and Hartley greeted each of them by name and with a smile. A student came in with a tired, grumpy look on his face. “Oh, he usually doesn’t really wake up until around ten,” she says as she pinches his cheeks. Another boy files in the door behind him. Hartley sees his fat, protruding backpack and unzips it, “you read all of these library books every night?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him. He nods yes and gives a facetious smile, then promises he will return a few of them.
Hartley came into her position as principal at BRCVPA amidst some controversy. In December of the 2014-2015 school year, Mark Richterman retired from his position as principal after a petition was formed by parents in response to his proposal to eliminate the visual arts program at the school. The proposal came when Ritcherman was faced with cutting 8% of the school’s $2 million budget, according to The Advocate.
Hartley’s approach to solving past trust issues between parents and BRCPV administration is to, “be as transparent as possible.” Parental involvement is a huge factor in the success of the school, Hartley says. “The parent-teacher relationship is so important,” Hartley explains, “because we’re expecting parents to do a whole lot more at home academically so that we can provide experiences here at school.” Students are enriched by experiences such as the ballet, the symphony, performances, and variety shows. March 10 was the only day this month that was considered a “full instructional” day, Hartley noted.
The potential loss of the visual arts program is now old news, as Hartley confirms, “I’m a big believer in arts integration.” When asked about her goals and initiatives as principal, Hartley never mentioned test scores, despite BRCVPA having some of the highest in the parish. Her daily and overall initiative is, “teaching the whole child.” “You’ve got to teach the child socially, emotionally, academically and artistically,” to properly educate and enrich a child, Hartley said.
Hartley is excited to implement a program next year called “Manners of the Heart” in order to address students social and emotional educational needs. Hartley describes the program as, “all about self-respect.” When speaking about the future, Hartley wants to, “continue to make sure that we implement an academically enriched curriculum” at BRCVPA in order to push every student to be their best.
Remaining positive is Hartley’s biggest initiative with students, teachers and parents. Her passion for educating students and teachers is deeply rooted and genuine. Although many educators and parents would like to “focus on what we can’t do,” Hartley said she likes to, “focus on the positives, and what we can do.” Hartley looks forward to furthering relationships with students, parents, and teachers to continue improving BRCVPA’s students academically, socially, emotionally and artistically.